January 22, 2016

Washington’s Week in Science

Policy News and Selected Funding Opportunities

Top Stories of the Week

  • Congress: Congressional Budget Office Reports Growing Budget Deficit
  • NSF: Science and Engineering Indicators Show Major Gains by Asian Countries
  • Health: Biden Launches Cancer Moonshot Initiative
  • Defense: DARPA Seeks to Develop Implantable Neural Interface
  • Climate Change: 2015 Hottest Year on Record


A new report by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) entitled Summary of the Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026 finds that the federal budget deficit will reach $544 B and has grown at a rate faster than overall economic growth. This trend, not seen since 2009, is the result of tax and spending decisions made at the close of 2015 as Congress reached consensus on a two year budget framework, an omnibus appropriations bill, and a package of tax extenders.

This new deficit estimate comes at a time that the Congress is debating the structure and process for proceeding with the FY17 budget. The bipartisan budget agreement reached at the end of October established revised overall spending caps in FY 16, and FY 17. It has been widely assumed that the setting of the FY 17 overall spending level would streamline the FY 17 budget process and reduce the need for a formal Budget Resolution. However, the CBO report suggests the possibility that a FY17 Budget Resolution could be a vehicle for addressing the debt through reduced spending levels and policy changes. This possibility has prompted concerns from Democrats and warnings not to revisit the bipartisan budget accord already in place.

Read More: The Hill


The National Science Board has released its annual Science and Engineering Indicators 2016. The report shows that, although the US leads in most indicators, China, South Korea, and India have made major gains over the past decade in terms of R&D investment and production of STEM degrees. At the same time, US federal investment in R&D has declined by 17% in real dollar terms since 2010. The US now accounts for 27% of R&D performed globally, while China follows with 20% after a decade of sustained growth.

Overall, the report paints a picture of a much more complex multi-polar international landscape. Scientific publications with multi-national authorship have risen dramatically. Astronomical sciences lead in this category with about 50% of all publications showing international collaboration.

Read More: NSF Press Release,  Inside Higher Ed

Health Research

Speaking at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center in Philadelphia, Vice President Joe Biden began the Administration’s push to launch the major cancer initiative highlighted in the State of the Union message. In addition to increased funding, one feature of the initiative which will garner much attention is related to his attempt to remove the “stove piping” of information which results from institutional and commercial proprietary factors. He acknowledged that achieving widespread, unimpeded information will be a political challenge. It is anticipated that a Presidential memo will be issued soon outlining policies and agency roles. Agencies involved would include NIH, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Defense, and the Veterans Administration.

Read More: ABC News

Defense Research

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has announced plans to develop an implantable neural interface that would bridge the gap between the digital world and neural electrochemical interactions. The Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program aims to compensate for sight or hearing deficits through digitally enhanced signals. The program is a part of the overall BRAIN initiative. In order to inform the community of potential proposers, and enhance the opportunities for collaborations, DARPA will hold a Proposer’s Day on February 2-3. A formal solicitation is envisioned soon.

Read More: DARPA Press Release

Climate Change

NASA and NOAA have jointly announced that 2015 was the hottest year on record as measured by ground and ocean surface temperature data, shattering the 2014 record by an unprecedented amount. Although the global temperature increase was partially amplified by El Niño which began mid-2015, participating scientists stated that the magnitude of the increase was such that anthropogenic factors alone would have resulted in the record high. For global surface temperatures, NASA and NOAA independently evaluate the data using their own methodologies, thus providing an important source of validation. The net global temperature increase for 2015 was 0.9 ° C above pre-industrial levels, nearly half way to the internationally agreed upon limit of 2°. This finding is certain to highlight climate change an issue in the presidential debates this year.

In other news, scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and NOAA have released results showing a substantial increase in the ocean’s temperature over the past several decades. Although surface temperatures have been well characterized, this new study includes data from deep ocean layers. This more comprehensive data set shows that ocean warming estimates from the surface to deep ocean regions agree well with results from climate models.

Read More: NOAA Press Release, The Hill, Washington Post


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